ATLANTA — When the final numbers come in Monday, the television rating for Super Bowl LIII probably won’t look much different than any other year. You’ll see hot takes all over Twitter about Maroon 5’s halftime show no matter how good or bad it actually is, just like you did last year with Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga the year before that. And, of course, much of the national conversation about what happens Sunday will be driven by the quality of the commercials, just as it always is.
Regardless of the teams involved, the Super Bowl is annually the most reliable show with the most enduring audience in American entertainment. It is a cookie-cutter national holiday as much as a football game, though ultimately it retains the one quality essentially to sports: You never know what part of that four-hour window will ultimately be remembered.
With that in mind, is it too much to ask for a good game? Because without it, this might be as flat and forgettable a Super Bowl as there’s ever been.
Matter of fact, was the NFL even the biggest sports story this week? Aside from commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual attempt to play “Frogger” with the media on Wednesday, the amount of intriguing and newsworthy content emanating from Atlanta hasn’t measured up to the NBA’s trade deadline madness, which dominated social media Thursday and Friday.
In other words, it’s rather been a bore.
There are some obvious reasons for that, starting with a matchup nobody really views as sexy.
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The Los Angeles Rams may be from a major market (at least for the last three years since moving from St. Louis), but they aren’t one of the NFL’s glamour franchises and aren’t built around polarizing skill players or a charismatic quarterback. Even in L.A., the Rams this week have been overshadowed by LeBron James coming back from injury and the Lakers’ pursuit of Anthony Davis. Though they play an attractive brand of football, their biggest star by a mile is their 33-year old head coach Sean McVay.
Then there’s the New England Patriots, who always draw eyeballs and jealousy and scorn owed to their continuous success and long-ago scandals. But even their presence hasn’t really done much to lift this particular Super Bowl into that hot zone where the nation can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.
Beyond the fact that some people are just tired of the Patriots, who will play in their fourth Super Bowl in the last five years and for the ninth time in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era, the stakes don’t feel particularly high this time.
Brady, age 41, has won five Super Bowls and lost three. Until last year, the New York Giants were the only team that had beaten the Patriots with everything on the line, and they’d done it in rather mythical fashion. Brady could say he’d never lost a Super Bowl to anyone but Eli Manning. But then the Philadelphia Eagles did it last season with Nick Foles at quarterback, removing another chunk from that veil of invincibility.
At least going into Super Bowl LII, there was a lot of uncertainty swirling around the Patriots. There had been reports all season about discord between Brady, Belichick and owner Bob Kraft. Brady hadn’t made it totally clear whether it would be his final game; tight end Rob Gronkowski’s comeback was uncertain, and New England’s defense looked as if it were being held together with string and duct tape. Either way, it set up as a possible last hurrah for the Patriots’ dynasty.
This Super Bowl doesn’t really have the same ramifications. Brady has already announced he’s coming back next season, so the retirement intrigue is off the table. A Patriots team that kind of muddled through the regular season ended up in the Super Bowl anyway, suggesting they’ll have a good chance to get back again next year. And at this point, whether Brady wins his sixth or ends up 5-4 in Super Bowls has no real impact on his legacy or his claim as the best quarterback of all-time. From a historical standpoint, it just doesn’t matter that much.
Our best hope, then, is that the game itself creates the drama. If the teams can reproduce even 75% of the tension and controversy they faced in their respective conference championship games, people will be glued to their televisions in the fourth quarter.
Unless that happens, though, this will be remembered as little more than the week the NFL played second-fiddle to the NBA trade deadline — no matter how many people tune in on Sunday.